Kevin Lee Discusses Return from Retirement & Post-ACL Surgery Fight Timeline

Former UFC interim title challenger Kevin Lee has announced his return from retirement, stating that he did not make an emotional decision when he decided to retire six months ago, but rather took some time to contemplate his decision after a loss and a re-injury; he now plans to fight again, despite needing to recover from a torn ACL in his knee, and promises to put everything into his comeback with the aim of leaving the sport with no regrets.

Kevin Lee was done. He’d hung up his gloves, called it quits on his MMA career.

He’d announced his retirement just half a year ago, but now he’s back. But don’t think it was a rash decision. He’d thought long and hard about it, even considered retiring right after his defeat to Rinat Fakhretdinov.

But he took his time. He wanted to be sure.

It was ten days later when he confirmed it. He was done with the sport. Or so he thought.

“I was pretty resolved,” he told MMA Fighting. “That fight in Eagle [FC] was the start. I re-injured myself, and it was a tough battle back. No surgery, just day after day of grueling recovery. It was the hardest training camp I’ve ever had. My body was breaking down.”

When he decided to retire, it wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment thing. He’d thought about it after the fight, waited for the disappointment to fade. But it didn’t. He still felt like he needed to retire. He doesn’t regret it. He needed it.

For six months, he was completely detached from MMA. No gym, no fights, not even surgery for his torn ACL. He was thinking about other things, like investing in real estate. But he couldn’t forget about fighting.

“I didn’t watch any fights, didn’t step into the gym,” he said. “It was a good reset. But it made me realize that what I love is fighting. I thought maybe if I made money doing something else, I’d forget about it. But I didn’t. The injuries were the real reason I retired.”

He’d been thinking about a comeback for the last two months. His mom was the one who convinced him. She told him, “The smile in your soul is gone.” That’s when he knew. He had to come back.

He announced his plans to fight again at the end of January. But his return won’t be anytime soon. He had another torn ACL, needed surgery, and is still recovering. He’s looking at a return in late 2024.

He’s scared of getting hurt again. But he’s willing to take the risk.

“I had surgery on Sept. 12,” he revealed. “I’m getting stronger. I’m still scared of getting hurt, but I’m ready to take the risk. This announcement was for me, to hold myself accountable. It doesn’t mean I’ll fight in two or three months. It’s going to be a slow process.”

He’s put a lot of thought into his comeback. He wants to leave the sport with no regrets.

“When I said I was retired, I meant it,” he said. “Now that I say I’m not, I mean it. It changes my whole lifestyle. I don’t want to look back when I’m 40 and wonder what could have been.”

He knows he’s still months away from fighting. He needs to get back into the UFC’s anti-doping program, recover from his surgery. But he’s got time.

“We’ll solve that in March or April,” he said. “Right now, it’s about getting healthy, getting in the best shape of my life. Then we’ll make decisions about contracts and logistics.”

He’s planning to return at 155 pounds. He’s had problems with weight cuts in the past, but he’s taking responsibility for that. He’s not cutting corners this time.

“I’m one of the top five at lightweight,” he said. “I can compete against anybody. With the right preparation, I can make the weight.”

At 31, he’s in the prime of his athletic career. He’s not rushing back into the ring. He’s ready to work his way back up.

“Now is the time,” he said. “Now is the time for me to seize it. I’m still chasing a world championship. Now is the time.”


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